A true mark of a good pierogi is how close to homemade it tastes. If it’s not made by grandma, does it at least taste like it does?
That’s what nominators told us about their favorite pierogies as we created the Ultimate Pittsburgh Pierogi Bracket, presented in partnership with KDKA-TV and the Pittsburgh Pierogi Festival. (Be sure to vote here for your favorite by 11 a.m. Thursday.)
But making pierogies is no easy feat. It takes hours, plus there are so many variations — and debate — on the recipes, as grandma never seem to rely on exact measurements, just years of a pinch of this and some of that.
When Dianne Palmieri started making pierogies herself after years of making them with her mom and grandma, she had to get out her measuring cup and compare it the the coffee cup that her mom used as a measuring cup.
“They are labor intensive, but grandma made it look easy,” she said.
Gaynor Grant said she learned from cooks who also also worked from memory.
Joseph Noll, who learned to make pierogies from his mom, said cooking always came with stories about his grandparents and great-grandparents. There are all these people in the kitchen and the “memories strike the heart,” he said.
Now all three teach pierogi making to Pittsburghers who often tell them about family members who made them, but they never learned. So if you’re trying to get a pierogi education, here’s a bit more about their classes. (If we missed one, let us know.)
If you want to learn a family recipe
The first thing to know about Palmieri is that she’s a third-generation pierogi maker who learned from her mom and grandmother and later perfected her own recipe.
She teaches pierogi making for several schools, including at Community College of Allegheny County and through her business, Children’s Cooking Connection.
At CCAC’s noncredit pierogi workshop, Palmieri teaches students to make potato and cheddar, and sauerkraut pierogies. The class starts with the filings and then moves to the dough — Palmieri likes a dough that’s on the thinner side — before it’s all rolling, cutting, pinching and boiling.
She also teaches how to make her surprise topping, browned butter instead of the typical butter and onions or sour cream.
The last step: Enjoy a meal together.
Next class: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 3 at CCAC Boyce campus (Monroeville). Learn more.
If you want to make something with a twist
Grant, director and owner of Gaynor’s School of Cooking, started her career in the United Kingdom, but it wasn’t until she moved to Pittsburgh in the early 1990s that she learned what a pierogi was.
Then, about eight years ago, two women from the South Side asked to use the school’s kitchen to make pierogi for a fundraiser. Grant said yes, on the condition they teach her. And she’s been teaching the class ever since.
Students learn to make two doughs (one with butter and one with sour cream) and four fillings: butternut squash, wild mushroom, garlic and potato, and cheese and potato. Plus, there’s a baked apple pierogi to make for dessert.
After students put in the work, they prepare their dinner pierogies by boiling or boiling and frying them. And yes, there’s time to eat, too.
The school also offers a kids’ pierogi-making class for ages 6 to 12.
Next class: 6 to 10 p.m. Oct. 3 at Gaynor’s School of Cooking (South Side). Learn more.
If you want to cook, create, and shop
At S&D Deli in the Strip District, the pierogi-making class is all about getting people into the kitchen and teaching them tips and tricks.
The class covers pierogi making from start to finish and includes making two filings — potato, and potato with farmer cheese. But students can also get creative, said Noll, assistant manager at the deli and a class teacher. If they want to make pierogis with sauerkraut or open a jar of preserves for dessert pierogi —they can do that, too.
Noll said his grandfather used to say that if there are 100 houses in a Polish village, there will be a 100 ways to make pierogi and other Polish foods. But the only way to find out is to talk to your neighbors and learn new things, Noll said.
Next class: Classes are currently on hiatus until fall. To learn more, call, email or visit S&D Polish Deli in the Strip District.